Page images

It was

comes into contact at every step with this materialistic spirit, that knows not the signs of the times. But then besides these there are countless others, expectant, anxious and exultant souls, eagerly longing for the future. There were men and women there ready to sacrifice house and hearth, family and fatherland.

a great time, pregnant with heroes and martyrs.

All the hopes and longings, the serious earnestness, and the anger that lived in this people, were concentrated in one man—John the Baptist. He was the 6 fulness of the time” of Jesus. He stirred the masses as no man had done before. His preaching is only handed down to us in the Christian tradition, and therefore we do not know it accurately. The results of his activity were twofold. He suddenly applied the thought of the coming judgment, which lay forgotten and ineffective amidst the great confused mass of eschatological fancies, not to the Gentiles, but to the Jews themselves, and thereby shook their ecclesiastical system to the very foundation. The wrath of God descends upon the children of Abraham; it is of no avail to belong to the sacred people. Thereby in the next place the Baptist set each individual man the anxious question, What shall I do to be saved ? This question, with which so many came to Jesus, is very far indeed from being a matter of course for a Jew, and not for a Jew alone. It was the result of the Baptist's preaching

Directly, John the Baptist was merely the founder of a sect which succumbed to the influence of the Pharisaic tendency. The entrance to this sect was

[ocr errors]

through baptism. Then followed ascetic observances to prepare for the judgment. There had been many movements like this before. The merely negative predominated, and that after all does not lead men out from Judaism. John hurled his decisive ‘nay against all the church life of the Jews. Jesus took up the ‘nay’and added to it His ‘yea.'

Jesus Himself was stirred by John to enter upon His own work. That was the greatest thing that John did.




CHRISTIANITY arose because a layman, Jesus of Nazareth, endowed with a self-consciousness more than prophetic, came forward and attached men so firmly to His person that, in spite of His shameful death, they were ready both to live for Him and to die for Him. Jesus imparted new values to things : He scattered new thoughts broadcast in the world. But it was only His person that gave these new values and these new thoughts that victorious power which transformed the world. It is men that make history and that imprint their personal character on great spiritual movements. If our century has had reason enough to learn that, then surely it is high time that the senseless chatter should cease about the religion of Christ which each Christian ought to acquire for himself. As if His power as Redeemer, His self-consciousness, His royal humility, could ever find a habitation in our little souls, quite apart from the fact that no one takes His external mode of life for a pattern. The difference between the prophet and the believer belongs to the elementary characteristics of every religion. The great historical religions, far from removing it, have but deepened and intensified it. It is impossible that a time should ever come for Christianity when any single Christian should acquire for his fellow-Christians the significance of Jesus.

What is the starting-point of our enquiry? Not the titles of Jesus; their meaning has itself partly to be explained by the self-consciousness. Not the stories of the Birth, Baptism, and Transfiguration; these are possibly but attempts at explanation on the part of the early Church. No; we must begin with Jesus' testimony to Himself and with His mode of life.

Jesus comes to a man and says to him, “ Thy sins be forgiven thee.” He does on the Sabbath whatever seems good to Him, and calls Himself Lord of the same.

As a new Moses He sets His “ But I say unto you” against the words of the law. Himself a layman, He sets Himself in the place of the Scribes and declares to His audience of lay people that all knowledge of God has been given Him, and that He will impart it to them. He says: “ Here is one greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon, the least of whose disciples is greater than John Baptist.” He exclaims: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away. He bids all those that labour and are heavy laden come unto Him that He may refresh them. They are to take up His yoke and learn of Him. And,

, on the other hand, He declares it to be the most grievous sin and one for which there is no forgiveness, if a man should blaspheme against the Holy

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


Ghost who through Him works miracles. He comes to this or that individual with the brief command

Follow Me,” and He calls for an immediate break with his previous mode of life. If need be, all are to be able to suffer and to die for Him and for His

If any man confesses Him before men and suffers for Him, then Jesus will certainly plead for him in the day of judgment.

These passages have all been taken from the Synoptists; they are the more significant, because Jesus does not here, as in the Fourth Gospel, press His personality upon men's notice, but rather conceals it. Now it is clear that a self-consciousness that is more than merely human speaks from these words. And this is the mystery of the origin of Christianity. What we need to do above all is to accept it as a fact a fact which demands a patient and reverent hearing.

For scarcely more wonderful than the lofty selfconsciousness of Jesus is the clear feeling of His limitations. Jesus prays to God as to His master, and teaches the disciples to pray to God. The deepest humility and subjection to the Lord of heaven and earth is His characteristic. Jesus will not suffer Himself to be called good—God alone is good. He knows nothing as to the last hour. God alone knows that. It is not His to assign the thrones of honour in the kingdom of God. That is God's sole prerogative. He speaks of God as the only judge whom man need fear. In Gethsemane He prays to God that the cup may pass, yet so that not His but God's will may be done. On the Cross there even escapes Him—according to the tradition-words that express a feeling of abandon

« PreviousContinue »